Suspect in Missouri threats freshman at another school

Summer Ballentine
Associated Press

Columbia, Mo. — A 19-year-old white man suspected of posting online threats to shoot black students and faculty was arrested Wednesday, authorities said, adding to the racial tensions at the heart of the protests that led to the resignations of two University of Missouri leaders earlier this week.

Hunter M. Park, a student at a sister campus in Rolla, was arrested shortly before 2 a.m. at a residence hall. The school said no weapons were found.

Park, who has not yet been formally charged, is enrolled at the Missouri University of Science and Technology. He was arrested by University of Missouri police and taken to jail in Columbia, about 75 miles to the northwest, where he was booked on a preliminary charge of suspicion of making a terrorist threat. Because of the Veterans Day holiday, he will not appear in court until at least Thursday.

The posts, discovered Tuesday on the anonymous location-based messaging app YikYak and other social media, threatened to “shoot every black person I see.” They followed the resignations on Monday of the University of Missouri system president and the chancellor of its flagship campus in Columbia.

Park did not respond Wednesday to an emailed request for comment from The Associated Press. A message left on his mother’s cellphone was not returned.

There were other threats, and authorities did not say if additional arrests were possible.

Another threat said: “Some of you are alright. Don’t go to campus tomorrow.” The message seemed to echo one that appeared on the website 4chan — a forum where racist and misogynistic comments are common — ahead of the deadly campus shooting at an Oregon community college last month.

Additional officers were already on campus before the university learned of the threats. University police were working with other state and local agencies to ensure the campus was secure, police Maj. Brian Weimer said in a statement.

“We investigated a number of reports and tips and take every one of them seriously,” Weimer said.

The school’s online emergency information center tweeted, “There is no immediate threat to campus,” and asked students not to spread rumors.

Park, from the affluent St. Louis suburb of Lake St. Louis, has excelled academically in science.

As a senior early last year at Wentzville’s Holt High School, Park was a member of the school district’s robotics team when he won the honors division for a project titled “A Novel Method for Determination of Camera Pose Estimation Based on Angle Constraints.”

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that the project advanced to the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Los Angeles.

A spokeswoman for the Rolla school, Mary Helen Stoltz, said she did not know whether the university planned to take any action against Park over his arrest.

On Wednesday morning, student foot traffic in Columbia was light as Steven Loughrige made his way to class. He said he never took the threats seriously because they appeared on social media.

“I’m just disappointed that it escalated,” said Loughrige, a white junior studying engineering.

Months of protests culminated in a tumultuous week on the Columbia campus.

Back in September, the student government president reported that people shouted racial slurs at him from a passing pickup truck, galvanizing the protest movement. Last week, a graduate student went on a hunger strike to demand the resignation of university system President Tim Wolfe over his handling of racial complaints.

Then more than 30 members of the Missouri football team refused to practice or play in support of the hunger striker. Those developments came to a head Monday with the resignation of Wolfe and Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin, the top administrator of the Columbia campus.

A plaza that had been the site of a sit-in by protesters was entirely empty Tuesday night, and only a handful of students were seen walking around campus. Police officers from the campus department and city of Columbia were on patrol.

Gaby Rodriguez, a senior, said she was at work when she heard about the online threats.

“It’s really disheartening and proves the point of why these protests and boycotts were necessary,” Rodriguez said. “I don’t think I’ve ever felt this unsafe at Mizzou,” she said, referring to the college by its nickname.

Some students, faculty and alumni have said the protests and top leaders’ resignations are the culmination of years of racial tension.

Among other recent events, members of the Legions of Black Collegians, whose founders include a recently retired deputy chancellor, said slurs were hurled at them by an apparently drunken white student while practicing for a homecoming performance.

The university has promised changes.

Chuck Henson, a black law professor and associate dean, was appointed Tuesday as the university’s first-ever interim vice chancellor for inclusion, diversity and equity.

The university system’s governing body, the Board of Curators, also announced other initiatives, including offering more support for hiring and retaining diverse faculty and staff and performing a full review of all policies related to staff and student conduct.